Yesterday, Britain voted in a referendum on our membership of the European Union. It was the first such vote in 40 years. Last time, the result was overwhelming in favour of remaining in the Union. This time, the result was to leave.
In the run up to last year's General Election, David Cameron promised that if the Conservatives won, he would address the issue of the European Union. He pledged to seek a new deal with the EU regarding Britain's membership, which would then be put to the British public in an in.out referendum. There has been a lot of speculation about this promise in the last 12 hours or so, with many people saying it was made because he never really thought he'd have to keep it (in the run up to the election, a hung Parliament was expected, with a Conservative/Lib Dem coalition expected to continue in power). Even more people have said he was forced to make this promise to prevent defections from the Conservatives to the UK Independence Party (UKIP). Whatever his reasons, the Tories won an unexpected overall majority at the election, and Cameron kept his promise. A new deal was negotiated in February, and the referendum was called.
Over the last few weeks we have had one of the most toxic, poisonous and downright nasty campaigns I can ever remember. The Remain side has been accused of engaging in "Project Fear" - scaremongering about what would happen with an out vote. The Leave side has been accused of lying about the economics of staying in the EU and racism with regards to immigration. It all came to a head last week when MP Jo Cox was murdered by Thomas Mair, a man who, when he appeared in court, gave his name as "Death to traitors, freedom for Britain".
The polls have been neck and neck for most of the campaign. Due to the nature of the vote, it wasn't possible to conduct an exit poll which meant it was simply a case of "wait and see" for the results. However, YouGov publish a final poll just after the polls closed suggesting a 52%-48% win for Remain. This boosted Sterling (our currency), which hit the heady heights of $1.50 to the £1 at one point.
Then, actual results came in. Gibraltar came in first, with a 96% Remain vote. Given Gibraltar's position, this was fully expected. Indeed, a lot of the early results were in favour of Remain, but in areas with relatively small populations. The first "big" results that came in were Newcastle (expected Remain) and Sunderland (expected Leave). Newcastle did indeed come in for Remain, but by a much smaller margin than expected, while Sunderland was as pro-Leave as expected. This set the tone for the night, with Leave doing consistently better than expected, even in areas where Remain won. With the Sunderland result (something like 61-39 Leave), the value of Sterling started to fall sharply.
At the halfway point of the night, it was still nip and tuck. But then the results for Scotland and London were complete (both strong Remain), and so the gap started to open. At 4:40am, the BBC officially called the result in favour of Leave. At 6:00, Leave passed the number of votes required to win. The UK had voted to leave the EU. The final margin was 52% - 48%.
The immediate impact was horrific for the stock and currency exchanges. This was to be expected - if there is one thing that the markets hate, it is uncertainty, and we have that in bucket loads. By mid-morning, David Cameron had announced that he has resigned as Prime Minister, although he will stay on to "stabilise" the country. He is expected to have been replaced by October. Whoever the new PM is will have the job of negotiating Britain's exit. Jeremy Corbyn (Labour leader, Leader of the Opposition) is facing a no confidence vote amongst his MPs after a disastrous campaign - Labour strongholds voted strongly to Leave following an almost completely invisible campaign to Remain by the party. It will be interesting to see how long he can stay on.
So what happens now? Following a strong Remain results in Scotland, the SNP (Scottish Nationalists) are eyeing an independence referendum, 2 years after a vote to remain as part of the UK. Northern Ireland also voted in favour of Remain, which has re-opened talk of re-unification with the Republic of Ireland. Personally, if Scotland and Northern Ireland are still part of the United Kingdom in 5 years, I'll be amazed. I expect both to be gone.
In terms of how the exit will happen, that will be dependent on what happens with the Conservative leadership change over. The mechanism for leaving the EU is Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Once that is invoked, a country has 2 years in which to negotiate their exit - after that 2 years, they are no longer part of the EU. So it will all depend on when Article 50 is invoked. As for the EU, nationalist movements in Europe are looking at this result and wondering if they can have some too. This exit could leave big enough cracks in the EU to cause it to fall apart.
This results has left me feeling the worst I have ever felt after a vote in my life. I feel numb. Despite all the issues with the EU, and there are many, I am personally of the opinion that we would be better of in it, with reforms. Sadly, the rest of the country disagree. I am incredibly disappointed. But, what has happened has happened, and it is time to move on. This result has shown we currently have a very divided country. We now need to pull together, unite as much as we can, and make the most of the situation we now find ourselves in. We can't moan, bitch and sulk that we didn't get the result we wanted. We have a result, and now we have to make the best of it.
Back in February, I told friends that I was terrified that by the start of 2017 Britain would no longer be in the EU and that Donald Trump would be President. Sadly, I'm going to be at least half right.